26 November 2012

Rosa Luxemburg in English.

If you thought crowd-funding to finance translation & literature was something newish, like I did for at least a couple of days, well, then we were both wrong together. Going under the old term of collecting subscriptions, crowd-funding to publish print literature by major authors went on for centuries & at least into the 1930s. An American committee established in 1937 to finance W.B.Yeat’s writing raised the equivalent of $96 000 USD in today’s money (or €74 000), which helped Yeats go on producing world class literature in the last 18 months of his life. What is new about the Toledo Translation Fund, established this year to support the translation into English of major works in the humanities and social sciences, from a wide range of world languages and cultures, are the dynamics of donating.

(I was given the above photo by a friend, of this moving painting of Luxemburg painted in 1928)

And the guys running the TTF -- under the leadership of Prof. Peter Hudis --  have chosen a more than dynamic author to translate, for the first major work in the series. Rosa Luxemburg (1871 - 1919) -- whose Complete Works are due to be published, thanks to the TTF, for the first time in English by Verso, in 14 volumes from February 2013 on. Those of you who've stuffed Rosa Luxemburg into the drawer marked “difficult, political, avoid”, may want to take a peek at Jacqueline Rose's fiery review in the LRB of the companion volume, titled The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, review available here.

Jacqueline Rose would like us to pull Luxemburg back out of the drawer & stick on new labels: “must-read, audacious, lyrical”. To get a comprehensive introduction to Rosa Luxemburg as an historical figure, listen to this radio programme on the American college station Against The Grain. Rosa Luxemburg's Complete Works should also break down other categories inside our minds: does our fascination with / professional work in translated fiction mean we're somehow disinterested in translated literary non-fiction? Which of us manage to be simultanously really into Ingo Schulze's novels but able to blank out all his critiques of capitalism, shouting out from any German newspaper you care to open?

Your own answers to these questions can tell us why the TTF model could also work for translating fiction in the future. Enough people enthusiastic about a book or group of books, & willing to put their credit cards where their mouths are: and then new ideas can move into new worlds. As you may have guessed by now, I'm going to be one of the translators in the translation-team for the Luxemburg edition, so my interest in the Toledo Fund raising the $ 11 000 / c. € 8500 it still needs -- (up to know they've already raised $ 19 000 / c.€14500) -- is not solely altruistic. And I'm going to be enjoying the fundraising work, by sending the appeal letter (no email for such serious matters) to famous well-off Germans who have at any time shown an interest in that side of philosophical & political life that Luxemburg embodies. You know the type: champagne socialists, others we may love to hate, others still who we would love even more if we knew more of them -- Günter Grass, Stefan Raab, Fritz Raddaz, Charlotte Roche, Gregor Gysi, Ingo Herzke -- and a hundred other individuals of that ilk who might wish to back the intellectual inheritance of one of the most intriguing women in German history. Writing to celebs & the nearly-famous in the off chance they'll back your project isn't just childish, it has pedigree: a good Hamburg friend got £1000 for acting school through an unsolicited letter to Anthony Hopkins. And a very polite refusal letter from Richard Briers as part of the same fundraising offensive.

So, if you're now itching to lunge for the credit card & donate online to making quality translation happen, then ... Don't let me stop you:

 With many thanks,Willie MacFarlane